Setting off on Le Tour - Brest, Brittany

Setting off on Le Tour - Brest, Brittany
Ian (Left) and Matt (Right)

Hello and a very warm welcome to our blog.

We are two amateur cyclists who have decided to follow in the footsteps of our cycling heroes and ride the complete 2008 Tour de France route. This year the most famous cycle race in the world covers 3500km (2200 miles) over 3 weeks in July and takes in some of the highest mountain passes in the Pyrenees and Alps.

We will start two days after the professionals on 7th July in Brest, Brittany and ride the whole thing stage-for-stage, road-for-road, day-for-day as the pros will be. This will result in us arriving in Paris on 29th July, having averaged 100 miles per day. Please click this link to see what lies ahead of us:
Our aim is to complete the whole route and this means that we will not be racing round but riding at a sensible, sustainable pace. As a result, we expect to be in the saddle for 12 hours on some days.

Friends and family will be driving a support vehicle but we will not have the benefit of masseurs, soigneurs, chefs and team doctors that the pros have. And there will be no Testosterone, EPO or illegal blood doping going on in our Tour!

We hope to raise as much money as possible for two very worthwhile charities: Ian is raising money for CLIC Sargent and Matt for MacMillan Cancer Support. Please dig deep and support these charities via our justgiving pages on the right. Alternatively, please email us with your name, contact details and the amount you would like to donate and we will contact you after we complete our tour.

At this time, a friend of Ian's, Robbie Stuart, is fighting Leukaemia and is a supporter of CLIC Sargent's work. A link to his blog can be found here. Best wishes go to Robbie who is currently recovering from a bone marrow transplant.

Please tell you friends about our blog and what we are doing, and please send us words of encouragement and support.
We will update you with our training and we will be keeping a diary on here as we ride the event in July.

Best wishes

Ian and Matt

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Stage 4: Cholet - Cholet 29km 10/7/08

Just a 29km time trial course to cover today so we didn’t need to be up early. Therefore, we were able to take full advantage of yesterday evening with our hosts M and Mme Dugast. We arrived late at 7.30pm at their “Chambre d’hote” near the town of Cholet, south east of the previous stage finish in Nantes.

Immediately very welcoming, they showed us around there abode, a converted barn with original beams and contemporary touches. The sort of impressive kind of building you would see on Grand Designs. That evening, they invited us to dine with them and we were treated to fine wine and excellent cooking. After some home made walnut wine which was extremely tasty, a little like Port, and a few glasses of red wine I was more confident to try some of my long lost schoolboy French. With Matt’s help and our hosts speaking very slowly we communicated pretty effectively. The food was excellent. We started with a sweet chestnut salad and moved on to slow cooked home-reared veal on the bone with tons of pasta. Dessert was “Une flotante” a meringue floating on Crème Anglais. They had prepared this meal with our cycling in mind – lots of protein and carbs. They had even recorded the time trial stage of Le Tour for us to watch.

So that’s two nights in a row now where we have been welcomed into our hosts’ home and treated to dinner wit them. I am amazed and humbled by the generosity of these people!

Waking this morning I felt tenderness in the tendon at the front of my lower shin, causing me discomfort when flexing and extending my foot. Tendonitis is one of those things you can’t really train for. Muscles feeling really strong, it’s the joints and tendons that complain! I expected saddle soreness to be worse that it is so far (touch wood!)

So it was a case of slapping anti-inflammatory gel on to it and then heading out to Cholet to start stage 4. On the way we stopped at a bureau de poste (post office) to pick up our pre-arranged Powerbar delivery. Next door was a pharmacy so I picked up one of those gel packs you put in the freezer for use on my ankle later.

Cholet isn’t the most picturesque French town by any means. We parked up and set off on the anti-clockwise circuit. Once out of the town it stayed on main roads and all junctions/roundabouts had yellow arrows marked on the tarmac so map reading was not necessary. There were a few gradual climbs, one quite long and some fast descents. I reckon you could reach close to 60mph if you tried on one of them! We had decided to ride at a low heart rate to promote recovery and we covered the 18 miles in 1 hour 10 minutes, averaging just over 15mph. The winner of the real thing two days ago was Stefan Schumacher of Germany (no relation to Michael or Ralf!) in 35:44!

After this short ride we got changed and met up with Tom and Marion, family friends of Matt, Chris and Paula. They were staying in Saumure, about 35 miles away. On the way back to our base, the heavens opened again and when we got back the washing we had hung out earlier was soaked. Let’s hope it dries before tomorrow. We don’t want soggy shorts!

So far that’s 599km in 4 days. Tomorrow is our longest stage of the tour: 232 km, nearly 145 miles. Let’s pray for a tail wind! This will be our last flattish stage before the big mountains. We’ll keep you posted!

Stage 3: St Malo - Nantes 208km 9/7/08


Today looked like being a tough day – 208km due South from Saint Malo on the northern Brittany coast to Nantes in the Loire-Atlantique region.

We were accompanied by my Dad for the first 3 hours of the day which was of great assistance for both pacing and a wind-break! We set off at 9:00am (one hour later than intended after a rather leisurely breakfast).

After 11km we passed by the B&B from the previous evening where we were given a cheer on our way by the owners which cheered us up and put a smile on our faces. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards I had an excruciating pain in my left kneecap which required me climbing off the bike for a short time. It felt like I would not be able to carry on, but I was determined to carry on and with a bit of encouragement from Ian and my Dad I carried on and it gradually got better over the next two hours or so.

We passed through the lovely walled town of Dinan after an hour or so and it would have been lovely to stop but a telling headwind and a long day meant this would not have been feasible.

The stage was without categorised climbs but the first 50km was surprisingly rolling and we passed the highest point of the day – the pleasant village of Becherel at 50km.

We met up with Mum, who was driving the support vehicle solo today, after 75km by a lake in a little sport/adventure complex to grab an few more cakes and drinks before agreeing to meet up two hours later about 50km up the road for lunch.

The road continued through some fairly flat, if unremarkable, countryside and with both Ian and I in quite some pain from various ailments, there was minimal chat. This was proving to be a very hard flat day, and the temperature was creeping up. Lunch was a welcome respite from the trials of the day and we sat on the grass to take baguette, cheese, ham and taboule.

Moving on from here we knew we still had 55 miles to go to Nantes and with the wind still in our faces we plodded on. We were fortunate enough to have considerable shelter form the wind thanks to some fairly wooded areas and the terrain certainly flattened out. We made it to the outskirts of Nantes in 7:52:45 on a stage which had taken the pros 5:05:27 (with the day’s winner being Sammy Demoulin of France).

We were shattered and feeling worse for wear, but packed into the car and off to Cholet, safe in the knowledge that the following day’s stage was only the 29km time trial.

The hardest day to date – but very pleased with our 15.8mph average for the day.

Stage 2: Auray - St Brieuc 165km 8/7/08


Well, we’re just settling down for the night after a splendid dinner courtesy of our hosts Rosie and Paul ( and a German family who were also staying in the Bed and Breakfast. A sumptuous four course meal has fully sated us and prepared us for the forthcoming day of 208km (thankfully with no hills).

So to the story of the day. Having stayed overnight in the start town for today’s stage (Auray) we set off direct from the hotel to the start at 8am. We were making steady progress until 11km out when Ian’s bottom bracket (the thing that holds the cranks and pedals on to the bike itself) undid itself. This required a call to the support team who were just raising a well earned coffee to their lips.

1 hour later, with problem solved (and feeling rather guilty for having again taken Mum and Dad away from a well-earned coffee), we went on our way through more rolling Breton countryside. The route took in 164km, including our first 3rd category climb – a really killer called the “Wall of Brittany” which just went directly up and over a steep hill – very painful I have to say.

Ian and I were both suffering a variety of complaints – some mentionable and some not so – which will add to the horror and pain of this ride as time wears on.

Anyway, we met up with my parents for a substantial picnic lunch on a green hillside overlooking a small cottage and pond. A very pleasant respite indeed. On we went and said we would meet up again at the finish (103km up the road) in Saint Brieuc.

We struggled initially with a tough crosswind and very rolling and agricultural terrain, before some sweeping descents and a strong tailwind brought us to Saint Brieuc and the finish where we managed (luckily) to meet up with Mum and Dad in what was a very sprawling city.

The countryside to date has been very attractive and while the attention tends to waver somewhat as the day wears on, cycling certainly is a great way to se a country.

We are learning as we go in terms of organisation and the role of the support team has been key as this allows us to get the miles done in an efficient time and also helps in complicated towns as they can go ahead and help us through via our walkie talkies which we are carrying.

A hard day’s ride at an average of 16.2 for the 103 miles – taking 6:23:00 compared to the pros 3:45:00 – led by Thor Hushovd.

Stage 1: Brest - Plumelec 197.5km 7/7/08


After a very rough crossing on Saturday night, we drove down from Roscoff to arrive in Saint Renan, near Brest yesterday afternoon. Most of the afternoon was spent snoozing after a really tasty lunch in our hotel, catching up on disturbed sleep from the crossing. A brief walk around the village revealed what felt like a ghost town. There was nobody around but that evening we found a really nice pizzeria where we stocked up on high carbohydrate food (pizza!) and some beer.

After a good night’s sleep we woke at 6.15am to uninspiring weather, overcast with rain in the air. After packing our kit into the car Matt and Paula popped to the local Patisserie for some croissants which we scoffed on the way to the start of the first stage in Brest. We had checked out the start yesterday so that we knew where we needed to be.

We started on one side of the old bridge in Brest parallel to the new road bridge. Crossing this we really felt the cross wind and saw sailboats speeding on the water demonstrating the strength of the wind. Sticking to the route, we passed through Plougastel Doulgas and Loperhet and then proceeded to turn left rather than right at a crossroads. Luckily we realised our mistake and turned round to continue to Hopital Camfrout and La Faou to the start of our first climb of the day, a 4th category called Cote de Ty-Jopic. Categories of climbs range from 4th (easiest) to Hors category (outside category – hardest). They are based on the gear that an old car would need to be in to get up it. 4th category-4th gear, HC climbs such as Alpe d’Huez are so big that a car would not have been able to get up there! Our first rendezvous with Chris and Paula was at Lannedern after 49km and we stopped for a banana and to restock on energy drink, energy gels and flapjacks.

On to Gourin at 90km after our third 4th cat climb of the day (Col de Toullaeron) and we met Chris and Paula just in time to jump in the car before a huge downpour! After munching on a ham and cheese baguette we were ready to continue. On our way to Plouray along the D1 we found a French cyclist hanging on to our back wheels. This guy overtook us, dropped behind us, crossed over to ride on the wrong side of the road and then rejoined us! Not entirely sure what he was up to but he seemed friendly enough and was impressed by our tour. Luckily he lived in Guermene sur Scorff where we passed through and hew was able to show us the way which was lucky as the route was not at all obvious there. Around here the heavens opened and I have never cycled in so much rain. We got absolutely soaked but luckily it was warm rain and we carried on in this for around half an hour before it eased up before our last 4th cat climb of the day (Cote de Guenerve). A quick rendezvous with Chris and Paula just after Remungol, which we reached half an hour before schedule, and we pushed on through Locmine and Bignan. Chris and Paula very helpfully showed us the way through these towns by overtaking us and waiting at the side of the road for us. The trouble with the published tour route is that it is not always clear where it goes through little villages where road signs are scarce and the TDF signs from the race are taken down/stolen as souvenirs straight after the stages. The last 7% climb up to Plumelac after a sweeping right-hander over a narrow bridge had us struggling a little, in contrast to the sprint finish in the real Tour.

We completed the 197.5km in 7hrs 36 minutes riding time at just under 27kph average.
Alejandro Valverde won the stage two days ago in 4hrs 36 minutes at a 42.1kph average! A great day’s riding over a rolling course. Let’s hope for better weather tomorrow!